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Demystifying Legal Transformation: The Experience of Being Legal

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Co-authored with Kimberly Miller, Senior Vice President, Experience Transformation

Every day millions of people forgo making coffee at home and other less expensive options and instead stop into Starbucks for their morning java. They are paying a premium not only for the coffee, but for the Starbucks experience. Hundreds of thousands of patients were satisfied with their doctors but rushed to switch to virtual care providers like One Medical at the first opportunity, proving how essential a convenient healthcare experience had been to them all along.

The quality of products and services is important, but we judge these products and services by the experience we associate with them. While there are a lot of things you can fake, you can’t fake how you make people feel. That's exactly why you’d be hard pressed to find an industry or segment of the business that hasn’t gone through an experience transformation, from pizza delivery to mortgage financing to human resources.

It wasn’t too long ago that the primary focus of human resources was on behind-the-scenes management and administration of things like payroll and benefits. However, today’s progressive CHROs work to elevate the whole human experience. Programs like flexible work arrangements, apprenticeships and paid tuition, adoption and paternity leave demonstrate the level of commitment to the talent experience and its status as a priority in the board room.

“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.” - Michael LeBoeuf

So why hasn’t legal had their transformation experience? The answer is steeped in legal’s DNA and goes beyond the services they provide to the deeper fundamentals of how they engage. Legal departments, built to constantly react and transact, have been too tactically focused by design. Their experience is more aligned to a service center on the receiving end of other departments.

Making the Case for Legal Experience Transformation

It is not often acknowledged, but the legal function sets the pace of business. Whether it is managing compliance risks, protecting a company’s unique assets, or determining how fast contracts can be executed, legal has a direct impact on the financial P&L of a business. Like never before, legal is being asked to do more with less. They are feeling crushing pressure to level up with peer departments and transition from being transactional in how they operate to delivering transformational experiences that drive business value.

True legal transformation directly drives value to a business and for that to happen, the experience needs to be at the core.

The pandemic accelerated the imperative for legal to transform. As legal’s adoption of technology has increased over the last year, so has the data collection on legal’s performance. In the past, the C-suite might have let legal slide; now, however, CFOs are questioning the legal function’s fitness for growth. As a result, legal is going through cost takeout and optimization programs. Budgets are being reduced, hiring freezes are happening, and yet the business expects legal to move at a quicker clip.

To garner the attention of the C-Suite, legal transformation needs to be based on a bigger vision and be relevant beyond the tactical and reactionary needs of a business. The experience transformation of legal needs to take a holistic view and account for new ways of working, data and insights, people and culture, and automation and enablement. Legal teams need to establish an experience mission and roadmap, one that is focused on their business role in generating revenue – and not just serving as the gatekeeper for other departments.

Here are the four areas of the customer and employee experience that legal needs to re-think:

Automation & Enablement

There are many pain points that a legal department faces, and not having enough budget or enough people are two of the most significant. Automation and enablement combat both problems.

There is no shortage of software tools that can help a legal department. The problem is they are often cobbled together, under-funded, have low adoption or don’t provide the capability to truly enable legal teams to operate more efficiently.

When good automation happens, you don't even realize it's happening; it's in the plumbing. When automation happens properly, it significantly cuts down on time spent doing tedious tasks and allows the talent to focus on the strategic goals of the business and to develop purpose-driven relationships. Legal’s customers will get more timely responses to their questions, an optimized workflow experience and the ability to move quickly to get new strategic initiatives off the ground.

For example, the General Counsel for a leading technology company and her team were spending days aggregating data from multiple systems to report to the business leadership on their matters and team performance, which took precious time away from engaging with their customers. When they centralized all critical data collection on a digital legal platform, they not only clawed back time and had the confidence to make decisions based on real-time insights, but they also refocused their efforts in building deeper engagement with their peers to align on their business goals.

New Ways of Working

The most innovative legal departments are working to define the best processes and workflow for creating better partnering experiences. You can have the best talent and tools that money can buy, but if you do not have a seamless process and workflow, it will create a lack of visibility into what matters most (one of the biggest experience pain point for teams) and will exhaust legal and its partners in the process of chasing information. New ways of working help legal teams meet the challenge of not having enough people or of being fatigued by having to repeatedly engage in unnecessary and unproductive process steps.

A legal department overseeing a multibillion-dollar merger of two global technology companies required immediate cost reductions and new ways of working post-merger at a technology company, but they were mired in more than 200 manual processes used to support more than 40 countries. To transform, they adopted eight new tools, invested in AI, implemented improved workflow technology and a process to triage requests. The result was a more efficient process for business users to engage legal resources, provide greater process transparency and the knowledge that the right resources had been assigned to deliver the work.

Data & Insights

As businesses are challenged to reduce costs and time to execute, there is a heightened reliance on making real-time decisions based on data. Taking the guess work out of decision making and replacing it with technology is a high-level frustration for General Counsel and team leads alike.

We're in a day and age where we can track a pizza, but we can’t track a contract approval. Legal departments don’t yet empower their consumers to know what stage a contract approval is in. Legal is positioned to provide insights that can enable the business to get ahead of questions and allow people to focus on more critical activities. The feeling of not knowing is only compounded by the effort it takes to know. Increasing contract transparency is essential to providing the business a great legal experience.

The root of many bad experiences is a lack of visibility into day-to-day operations. And for a legal transformation leader of a large logistics company, solving for this quandary was his highest priority for his team and customers. They embarked on a three-year roadmap where they committed to delivering simplicity, visibility and intelligence to their team and customers. This purpose-driven strategy allowed them to quickly pivot investments, resources, and activities, and helped them reduce non-essential activities. The team now felt empowered, focused, and energized to know where their goal posts were.

Culture & People

Legal teams are bringing in top tier talent. The problem is that talent is not being nurtured and developed. Legal employees exhaust themselves on projects without understanding the importance their work has on the overall business, or how it's connected to other initiatives. Some departments get territorial over certain projects, even though they could use additional help. There is often minimal efficiency in resource allocation, and even less transparency. Legal departments often also have a “micro culture” that is not aligned with the broader enterprise’s culture and purpose.

Legal departments will find that cultivating their talent, building digital-first skill sets and mindsets, will produce a happier and more productive team – and a better overall culture.

One legal department in a global real estate company, for example, was struggling to maintain their processes as they scaled exponentially. With 11 different contract types, a four-month implementation timeline, and serving more than five regions globally, they realized that a dramatically different people model would need to be a part of their process and technology transformation, or implementation could stall. The real estate company transformed to significantly reduce time spent on non-value-added processes, keeping employees happy by allowing them time to prioritize more strategic and impactful work. A focus on cultivating digital proficiency and balancing the resourcing model produced benefits including improved system adoption, increased team engagement, and tangible value creation for the business’ bottom line.

Experience Transformation

The best companies are attracting the best talent and customers and keeping them for longer. For legal to take its rightful seat at the table of every business, they need to realize they are in the experience business. The experience they provide to customers is core to their success. Demystifying legal transformation will happen only when a holistic approach includes the human element, not just technology.

The legal experience is the linchpin that drives speed, quality, efficiency and happiness.

Experience transformation is easy to start but requires commitment to make it real. Begin by asking yourself: What are the frustrations and friction points in our operating model? And if they are all removed, what would we look and feel like - and how would it propel the business? Then, define the role of experience and the objectives to be the foundation for your transformation blueprint. 

Do not focus just on how much percentage by which you need to reduce your budget or increase productivity. If you have the right experience, the metrics will take care of themselves. A transformative experience will empower legal to accelerate business performance and deliver on the metrics that matter.

This story was originally published on David Clarke (dlclarke). To read more, visit Demystifying Legal Transformation: The Experience of Being Legal. by David Clarke.